: Last year, I booked an Air New Zealand Skycouch for a flight from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. I'd recently had knee surgery and needed the extra room. I paid $2,170 for the ticket. When I boarded the flight, I found out that Air New Zealand had sold two of the three adjacent seats to other passengers, and I was denied their use. The flight manager said I "hadn't paid enough" for the Skycouch option, and refused to move me to business class.
I identified myself as disabled because of knee surgery. I had had stitches removed two days before flying and assured my surgeon I could keep the leg elevated on the long flight. Because I was unable to do so, my knee swelled up so badly that my mobility was restricted. I couldn't enjoy my time in Auckland.
I originally asked Air New Zealand to refund my entire fare. They declined and refunded $1,199, the difference between the normal coach fare and the Skycouch fare.
I have filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Do I have any other recourse to get additional compensation?
- Susan Crookall,
Fort Collins, Colo.
Answer: It takes more than 12 hours to fly from San Francisco to Auckland. The seat pitch - a rough measure of legroom - is 31 to 33 inches in economy class, which makes this marathon flight an ordeal for anyone. The Skycouch is actually a great idea. It offers three economy-class seats in a row that, together, create a flexible space - an area to relax and stretch out in, or for the kids to use as a play area.
If you booked a Skycouch, you should have had one. Instead, a crew member told you, in front of the other passengers, that the $2,170 you paid wasn't "enough" and that you had to suffer through the flight in a regular economy-class seat, despite your disability.
Technically, all the airline had to do was refund the extra money you paid. But there's still the issue of the painful crossing and how it affected your stay in New Zealand. Surely, Air New Zealand owes you at least an apology for the denied seating.
(As a side note, none of this ought to be necessary. Every seat on a trans-Pacific crossing should have a minimum comfort level. Airlines keep moving seats closer together to make more money. Air New Zealand is by no means the worst offender, but it can do better.)
I contacted Air New Zealand on your behalf. A representative got in touch with you and explained that a schedule change in your flight time resulted in your Skycouch reservation being "disassociated" from your reservation. In other words, Air New Zealand thought you had paid for a single seat.
A representative apologized to you, credited you with 5,000 frequent-flier miles and refunded your airfare - an exceptionally generous resolution.